In 1982 a baby boy was born to Inayat Bibi and Saif Masih. They named him Iqbal Masih. Sometime after Iqbal’s birth, Saif Masih deserted the family. While Iqbal’s mother worked, his older sisters took care of him and his older siblings. Iqbal did not go to school. Education was not compulsory or widely available in Pakistan. Very few poor children learnt to read and write. He spent his earliest years playing in the fields until he was ready to help his family by going to work.
To pay off the wedding of Saif’ oldest son, he turned to a local thekedar, an employer who owns a nearby carpet factory. In return for the loan, the employer expects collateral, a guarantee of something of value to secure the loan. Said Masih’s only valuable possessions were his children. Iqbal, a scrappy four-year-old, was considered ready to work. Little Iqbal would weave carpets until all the money, including an undisclosed amount of interest and expenses, was paid back.. From that day forward, Iqbal became a “debt-bonded slave.”
Iqbal’s job at the carpet factory was essentially no different from that of millions of other young people who work day and night to help their families. At four o’clock in the morning, he was picked up by the thekedar and driven to the factory where he was to work for the next six years of his life. He was put in an airless room, big enough for about twenty looms. A small, bare light bulb gave out little light. It was sticky and hot inside the room because all the windows were sealed tight to keep out any insects that might damage the wool.
When Iqbal completed his work as an apprentice, he was then ready to weave carpets. He worked beside twenty other boys. His earnings amounted to one rupee a day (two cents), even though he worked from four o’clock in the morning until seven in the evening. The children in the shop were not allowed to speak to one another. “If the children spoke, they were not giving the complete attention to the product and were liable to make errors,” Iqbal later told journalists. Many other freed child slaves told similar stories.Read More »